Theology After Residential Schools Open Access

Conroy, Christina Marie (2016)

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This dissertation articulates a Christian theological response to the Christian participation in residential schools. Between 1860-1996, it is estimated that 150,000 Aboriginal children in Canada were placed in what were largely church administered residential schools. The Indian residential school system was an assimilative education project designed by the government to "rid" Canada of "the Indian problem." (Duncan Campbell Scott) The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established by the victims of residential schools as part of the compensation package issued through The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history. Between 2010 and 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada received testimony from over 6000 witnesses. As a result of this witness, this dissertation argues that Christianity does not only justify dehumanizing behavior in the history of residential schools, it inflames it. I suggest that the colonial argument of cultural mimesis does not account for the proliferation of horrors that the church imposed on the children of residential schools. Using theologian Paul Tillich's symbol of the demonic, I locate the source of distortion and destruction internal to Christianity itself. I argue that absolutized versions of the theological symbols of Emmanuel (God-with-us) and divine condemnation underwrote and exacerbated the cruelties of residential schools. Such an argument demands of Christians that we acknowledge the capacity within faith and virtue to distort. We are asked to acknowledge that the ambiguous presence of the holy to human beings means we live in a dynamic, critical relationship to the language, images and tasks we use to reflect the beauty of divine love. I argue that Christian history discloses another stream of theology that rejects the absolutization of condemnation that distorts the image of the divine. As Christians in Canada seek to live into right relationship to our Aboriginal peoples, reconciliation will need to include not only acts of decolonization, but also of renunciation of demonic distortion within theology itself. A theology after residential schools speaks God to the world as Emmanuel, God-for-all-of-us, gathering the whole of God's creation into spaces of belonging and measurable flourishing.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 - History 15

Chapter 2 - Ambiguity 71

Chapter 3 - Demonic 101

Chapter 4 - Alternatives 151

Conclusion 177

Bibliography 190

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